Caterham Motorsport, the British Racing & Sports Car Club, Motorsport UK and the circuits had done an amazing job to provide us with a six race revised calendar following the initial COVID lockdown. While we were due to race at Brands Hatch, it was intended to be a single race. To squeeze the races into a shorter amount of time the Brands Hatch weekend was made into a ‘double-header’ with round four of the championship held on the Saturday and round five on Sunday. Saturday’s result would determine Sunday’s grid positions. And, the bonus - Brands Hatch is my local circuit, one of the good things that has come from this terrible crisis.
As this was my local circuit, I had lots of support from friends, family and my sponsor. Also, many owners had come out to support. Ian Bruce had arranged for a display of our cars along the ‘Brittens Parade’ and also use of the Director’s Terrace to watch the racing. The terrace provided an elevated position, inline with the start/finish line which provided an excellent view of the Indy circuit. With a maximum of 20 people, this allowed plenty of room for social distancing which has become a part of our everyday lives to look after each other. Doug Taylor from Just Add Lightness kindly supplied COVID safe snack bags and soft drinks for owners for both of the days. No pressure then!
In fact the weekend was off to a great start. Friday’s testing went well and I was able to try some different lines, braking and even a different gear selection for the infamous Paddock Hill Bend. This was duly put into practice for Saturday morning’s qualifying session which resulted in ninth, my best ever qualification, ideal.
After lunch on Saturday, it was time for the first race of the weekend. Feeling confident due to my start position, all of the support and also that from my first three races I know that my race pace is usually better than my qualification pace, I pulled up to my grid position. Now, what I hadn’t prepared for was the sloping start/finish straight. In a Caterham race car you do not have a handbrake, it is taped over so you do not accidentally snag the arm restraints worn (the restraints prevent you from lifting your hands outside of the roll cage in the event of rolling the car). This meant that I had to cover the brake with my right foot while feathering the throttle for the three thousand revs for launch. When the lights went out, I completely fluffed the transition from brake to throttle and added far too much throttle. With the skinny Academy tyres, this resulted in an impressive amount of tyre smoke, but a very slow get away from the grid and the loss of places before arriving at turn one. I lost a further positions on lap two with Ian Hapgood passing into Surtees, James Hall passing into Paddock Hill and Pete Lawson making an excellent move around the outside of Paddock Hill taking advantage of me being held up slightly by the car in front on the racing line. Now I had everything to do. I was able to make a few of these places back during the rest of the race and finished in 11th, my worst result of the year and the first time I had finished lower than I had started. On the plus side, I kept the car on the black stuff and provided my supporters with 20 minutes of racing. With so many watching, the last thing I wanted to do was dump it on the first corner!
Having dropped places, this meant I started my second race on Sunday right back on the seventh row of the grid in 13th place. Learning from my mistake off the line the day before, I made a fairly good start keeping pace with the cars in front. However, Ron, Steve and Bruce all made amazing starts and made places past me and others before they had reached the first corner. Through the first corner we were three wide, I was in the middle and passed Micah Lazarus to my right, James Hall was on the left and passed us both around the outside of Paddock Hill Bend. Heading into Clearways at the end of the first lap, I could see that there was some sort if incident in front. I backed off allowing Micah past, and then immediately in front was Steve ‘Lanky’ Lancaster pointing the wrong way at me, James Hall was in the gravel to my left. I directed my car between these two cars only to find that James would rejoin the circuit right into my intended path. I had to take avoiding action, putting my car into the gravel to avoid a big collision with James - this was a close one. Lucky to still be in the race, this had cost places. Now behind James Hall I had an ‘interesting’ few laps trying to pass him until the safety car was deployed. After the safety car restart, I headed into Druids on the normally preferred inside line. However, I was in a train of cars doing the same thing, as a result of the concertina effect this line proved to be slow and two cars took the outside line, one of the cars was able to make the pass stick, while I got on the power out of Druids and saved the second of the positions from being lost. Not learning, I took the inside of Druids on the following lap and this time lost two places to cars going around the outside! A coming together of two cars in front of me through Graham Hill Bend allowed me to make back a couple of places and now my paddock mate Rich Brooks was in front. We had a great battle into Druids where I was able to get my car up the inside, but Rich did well to keep his car alongside as we went around Druids together, this allowed Rich to keep the inside line for the next left hand corner Graham Hill and kept his place, for now at least. With a good drive out of Clearways onto the start/finish straight I was able to tuck up behind his car, pick up a tow and slingshot past him into Paddock Hill, taking care not to go in too quickly, I gathered the car together to secure the place. The next two cars were a long way up the road. I was clearly catching them, but with a few minutes left on the clock this wouldn’t be enough time to make any further places. The result was 13th, but weirdly felt like my best ever race!
Brands Hatch had taught me a lot about racing. In particular, I was taking defensive racing lines, when really the car behind was not close enough to make a move. Being off line cost me pace through the corner and allowed the pursuing car to close, and for me to lose ground on the cars in front. Also, the ideal racing lines are not always ideal! I had been passed on the outside of Paddock Hill and Druid on a number of occasions. I should have been ready to defend against this, and also if I seen this working for others, perhaps I could have tried these lines for myself! I would really encourage you to watch my vlog as you will see the drivers eye view of all of the action for yourself!
This had now dropped me from sixth place in the championship down to eighth place as we head to our final race of the season from the fabulous Donington Park. Please join me for one last update next month.